The easiest indicator of whether a fish is fresh is to look at its eyes. The fish’s eyes should be clear and not cloudy, with the pupil looking distinct from the whites. If the eyes look murky or sunken, it’s best to pick another one, as the fish may have been laying out for a while.
Aside from checking if the fish’s body has any signs of damage or injuries, be sure to also pay attention to its fins and tail. Torn fins or an incomplete tail may indicate some mishandling, or that the fish struggled too much in the net.
It is now time to get your hands dirty – if the fishmonger or counter staff allows, of course. Take a peek at the fish’s gills by lifting its cover. Make sure they’re bright red, which is a clear indication of the fish’s freshness. Avoid purchasing fish with brown or dark red gills, as that may mean that it’s been out of the water for a long time.
The meat of a fresh fish is springy, so it should bounce back to its original shape after you’ve lightly pressed on it. If the flesh feels soft or even sticky, it’s a sign that you should leave it alone.
Gently run your finger across the fish and see if its scales detach easily from the body. A healthy, fresh fish should have relatively firm and shiny scales. Stay away from a fish with flaky scales like how you’d stay away from a flaky Tinder date.
The last part may come across as odd, especially if you’re shopping in a supermarket, but go for it anyway if you really want the best fish. Have a quick whiff and make sure it doesn’t smell too fishy or foul.
While fish fillets don’t give as many clues to their freshness as whole fish, there are still some things you can look out for:
Just like whole fish, the fillet’s flesh should be bouncy, not soft or sticky. Don’t press it too hard though, as you don’t want to damage it.
Cracks in the fish fillet might be a sign of damage or that the fish is not fresh.
Is there water in the fillet’s packaging or container? This could mean that the fish is losing its moisture, as it has been left out for a while.
The fish fillet should be consistent in its colour. White fish should have a translucent look, while darker fish such as tuna or salmon should have bright flesh. The fillet’s surface should also be glossy and smooth.